The weight of love


I’m up late again, writing, sleepy but unable to sleep. This feels like the first months of my son’s life again, as he’s waking again every few hours. He’s 5 months old. I can’t believe how big he is and as I lay awake, I pick up my phone and scroll through his entire life of photos backwards to see him shrink, his eyes go back out of focus, his skin get redder, his smile disappear. I like him now. I liked him then. I fast forward to next year, to five years, to 17, and miss the baby already.

I saw a post on a Facebook LaLeche League site by this woman thanking the community for helping her when she struggled to nurse her newborn and letting them know that her baby had died at just under 3 months old of a rare congenital disease. My heart stopped for a minute and I ached all over. I can’t even imagine. But…of course, I can. I imagine this all the time. Not in a morbid sense, but in the way that everything is now closer to the edge of my skin since my son was born. I am afraid of losing what I’ve come to finally find. But not in a way that makes me careful, cautious, full of terror. I’m just close enough to the edge of where life and death meet that I can smell it. I have an infant and I know love in that big “L” kind of love way that only happens when something absolutely depends upon you for life. My son literally depends upon me for food. All my ‘run away to India and travel the world for a year’ fantasies are now gone. There’s no exit in this Love. I love my husband and I love my parents and I love my dog. But this is different. And it’s not that goopy, glassy-eyed Vaseline-screen kind of love you see women have for their infants in the movies.  Mine is crystal clear and sharp.  It’s got edges.

I feel the fierceness of my protection now, but it’s not new like a foreign thing. It feels more like I’ve woken up to something that was dormant — not a surprise — it was always there.  But, before, it came out sideways. Now it has purpose. That kind of love. The love that would throw her body over top of his if the sky fell.  Just, you know, murderous and martyrish and practical like that.

I find myself feeling like I know things that my husband does not. And I’m arrogant about it and passive aggressive, too.  Like I’m humoring him when he offers ideas or counters mine.  Because I know something in my skin from carrying him, and I’m going to guess that even women who did not carry their children (adoptive moms, foster moms) feel that same thing too so it’s not entirely the domain of the ones who gave birth. It’s a mothering thing.  I listen to my husband, or the male Pediatrician, with an open-minded skepticism that I can’t help and then I’ll check out what they say with what I know.  From that Love I feel. That I harbor. That I have harbored upon. Like a lighthouse. Maybe the “love” is more of an intuition.

Admittedly, I always hated women who said things like “you’ll never know love until you have a child”, back when I was childless by choice. Back when I didn’t anticipate that changing. I thought they were arrogantly holding some impossible ideal of womanhood over my head. I was defensive. I knew love. I was a full and complete woman, without a child. I didn’t feel a vacuum of love.  I once had a friend, (who, if I’m honest, never really was a friend to begin with) say to me, very cruelly, ‘Oh, how would you know anything since you are barren,’ to which I was left stunned and silent, my brain spinning so I couldn’t even come up with a sharply mean retort (I mean, a. I was not barren and b. fuck her). I imagined all my breeder girlfriends looking at me and thinking, ‘Oh, she’ll never know love like we know love’ and I wanted to spit in their nurturing faces. I know that the love of a pet is a fierce love. I have loved dogs throughout their full lives, laying down with them as they took their last breath. They visit me in my dreams. And I can absolutely imagine running into a burning building falling down around me in order to rescue my dog Flo. I’d give anything to have a few more days with June, with Maybelle, with Siggy, with Clyde. I still have a half-eaten bone from my dog Numpy who my parents sent away when I was 12 as we were moving halfway across the country. The night before we left, I had an elaborate plan to rescue Numpy from the farm they’d taken her to, and I know that plan and that route and that feeling of despair of the loss, still, 38 years later.

But Love here is different with this boy. It is more pointed, more direct, an arrow, a rocket, a missile, a tornado, a tidal wave. It’s the entire orchestra, not just the weepy strings, timpani crashes and all. It’s not sentimental. It’s volcanic. It’s not just one plane flying cartwheels, it’s the fleet blackening the sky in formation, headed out over my father’s farm in the 40’s near Dover on its way across the Atlantic to D Day.  It holds life and death. It holds joy and terror. It’s a fear that I didn’t have before that is entangled with something sharper, more terrifying, and dare I say it?, Bigger?  Or maybe it’s not bigger per se, but it’s just more weighted. Yes, heavy. Heavier.

It’s a heavier love than I have ever felt.

One of my favorite books in college was Kundera’s The Book Of Laughter and Forgetting.  I used to read it once a year. To be honest, I don’t even remember it that well today. I know there were parts about the Prague Spring. I remember the chapter about Bach, how at the end of his life, after composing grand pieces, he returned to writing exercises. Finding the entire universe in the small.

Maybe this kind of love is the “unbearable lightness of being” that Kundera writes about in another of his books. Maybe it’s time to revisit his writing.

This week, my 18-year old niece is in her first week at college in North Carolina, which seems impossible. Didn’t I just hold her tiny body in the palms of my hands, bathing her with my sister and cooing with her? Didn’t I just hold her at her baptism, standing beside my sister as her Godmother, promising to raise her should anything happen to her parents? DIdn’t I just sit next to her in the woods near a campfire, roasting marshmallows? Didn’t we just go to the Nutcracker in Manhattan, her feet in shiny paton-leather Maryjane shoes, her hair cut in a blunt pageboy?  I blinked and she was taller than I am. This week, my Facebook feed is full of photos my college friends are posting of their first born’s going off to college. There’s a photo of a handful of my classmates standing over Memorial Hill together, having just left their kids to the Class of ’22, and I can still see the 18-year old in my friend Linda’s eyes, just down the hall from me in our 3rd floor dorm, as eager and vulnerable and frightened as I.  One of these parents is a writer who inspires me constantly and, quite honestly, inspired me so much I took to writing this bloggishly memoiry thing I’m writing, as she did it once herself and with the kind of messy humor that just defines her own luminous beauty that seeps out onto the page with such humanity that it makes me want to weep and laugh and weep again. And there she is, dropping off her son to our college, the same son she wrote about in her own memoir when he was just past crawling, a memoir which, got me through the first few months of my own son, not yet crawling.  And here I am, 50 years old, spit up in my hair, desperately trying to catch 15 minutes of time here and there to write a sentence, edit a verse, even think about bills or how I’m going to pay them now that the way I’ve made money my whole adult life has to shift, drumming up side gigs here and there, squeezing cash out of what seems like stones. How does anyone do this? How did they? I had lunch this afternoon with my own Mommy group – a loose group of mothers in the music world. Basically, a good excuse to go eat Tacos on a Tuesday with our kids and ask each other the same question:

“How. Will. We. Do. This. Now?”

I don’t have the answer. I think I do, in those space when H naps, when a thread of a melody catches me and I can record it, or the tangle of words to a lyric I’ve been wrestling suddenly untangles and I can see the fix, in rhyme. The answer is we just do this. When we can. However we can. Because we can. Because we love to do this. Whatever the ‘this’ is.  And the ‘this’ is heavy, too. In its own unbearable lightness, which makes it absolutely unimportant and completely elemental.  As elemental as the heaviest kind of love.


Sing a note. Any note. On the count of three. Don’t think about a chord. Just choose a note.

Hold that note.

Others around you will have chosen a note as well. There is no reference chord, so, hopefully, the notes won’t seem to fit. They will bump up against each other, rub wrong, cluster and hurt and feel absolutely, solidly wrong in your ear.

Do not move your note to make it right.

Do not bend your note to fit to a chord.

Do not lean into the pleasing.

Lean into the wrongness.

Then, stay.

Stay there.

Hold the note.

If you wait long enough in this cacophony of wrong, something will happen. A shift. And the wrong will seem right and the ugly will turn beautiful and the random will become musical.

The wrong will be right.

Ugly will be beautiful.

This is what Kathy Mattea was describing to me last week about an exercise she experienced at a vocal workshop held by Bobby McFerrin called Circlesongs. She was explaining the experience of being in the middle of that cluster of notes where everything in her voice wanted to move her note to fit into something more understandable, more western, more pleasing, and that the challenge was to sit in the awkwardness of her choice until it changed into something perfect.  She explained what happened to her skin, to her ears as the cluster morphed into beauty. And I sat listening, lapping this up, wanting that experience so badly, understanding the metaphor that living this chord would be like.

We had just drifted on a couch for two hours in a conversational river from writing projects to my new baby to her new record to my fears about what would be next for me and her patience with what would be next for her and our ages and how turning 50 is walking across a bridge to a new frontier but leaving behind the years of being the new and shiny one, the noticed one, into a land closer to the Crone than the Princess, and from there we bounced around our wrinkles, our skin, exercise, voices, songwriting, performing, teaching, writing, Botox, facelifts, makeup and hair and weight and body image and the perception of ourselves, real and perceived.  And in there, somehow, Bobby McFerrin came up. As she has studied with him and turned me onto an incredible voice teacher who works with McFerrin. And we talked of being singers tied to the page, the score, the song and the release of improv, walking through the fear of screwing up, failing and falling and flying.  And she talked me of this chord – this exercise of leaning into something so uncomfortable it was hard to not fight it and straighten out the crooked. Except that by staying long enough, the crooked became something else.

The next afternoon, I went to Kathy’s vocal masterclass, stood in the center of her students as a student, and on her count of three, I hit a note and held it in the midst of chaos. I almost cried.

I wonder why the act of aging skin makes me (makes all of us, let’s get real) so uncomfortable and I try very hard to not be judgmental of anybody else and their choices, but it’s hard for me to not feel a slight betrayal every time I find out another friend has taken the needle to their forehead to erase just a few years of lines and grooves.  Because no matter my resolve, I look in the mirror and see the lines and the sagging skin and the spots that weren’t there a few years ago and know that there’s a fairly easy way that is socially acceptable and widely used (and really not that expensive) to just freeze time a bit. And smooth it all out. And I lean into that to see how the possibility feels in my skin.

And it doesn’t feel right for me.  Right now, today, because who knows where I may be tomorrow or how I may feel, I want to lean INTO aging, to have the full experience of the Crone, to know the grief of lost youth and to write about it and by admitting it, to allow for that beauty to emerge.  Because there is nothing more beautiful to me on this planet than my mother in her 70’s who looks 15 years younger than her age and my grandmother when she was in her 90’s with her “Robert Frost” face marked by the sun and salt air and my 2nd cousin Pauline in her 90’s, skin of smooth peaches powder and grace. I look back 10 years and I think now I look younger. I look back 20 years and wish I could have seen the beauty in that face when I lived in that skin. I see it now.  Death is inevitable. So is aging. Why not embrace that beauty. No matter how many photos reveal the fissures of time.

Lean into the chord and stay.


Look in the mirror and stay.

Om shanti shanti

Mothering an infant is very much like a walking, wandering meditation.  I was just writing this to a friend of mine, a fellow meditator, who had asked me how motherhood was going. I wrote this to him: “You may be one of the only people I know who will truly get this but I’ve never experienced the “Present Now” like this.” Part of it is the simple explanation: deep sleep deprivation is a dream state. I walk through the minutes of the day slowly, cautious of imbalance and blurred vision.  I stay focused on my feet.  It is, so why fight it. I’m sleep deprived, once again, and so I feel off balance. I can’t nap well, there’s no point in complaining, so I’m leaning into the haze. I’m under water. I notice my breathing, I notice my ‘noticing’. Which is a meditation. It really is the most present to the “right now” that I’ve ever experienced in my life.

Huck is in his 4 month ‘sleep regression’ stage, which means, we are back to him waking up a lot during the night. He was sleeping through the night and we were celebrating with long, luxurious full nights of sleep.  Then: boom! It ended. And, since J is back to work, that means I’m the one to get all the middle-of-the-night shifts.  I get about 2-3 hours of sleep at a time, and even that is shallow, as I’m back to the listening for danger.  I’m a lioness guarding the perimeter.  I never fall into REM sleep; I never really wake up.  I hear the house breathing. This morning I listened to the first bird at 5am, felt the sun peek through our window blinds. My eyes closed, I listened for the cars, the morning waking itself in our neighborhood. I heard my dog whine. My son started to rock a bit in his bassinet. The creaking of crib linens against the mesh sides. His legs and arms convulsing and slapping the bed. His waking rhythms. My husband’s soft snores. The buzz of the air conditioner. The whoosh of the ceiling fan. A creak, a stir, a breathing.

Sleep deprivation is a welcome vacation from my critic. She’s quietest when I’m like this. I wander in rhyme and melody, I hear music and see colors, I read books and read deeper, feel the shivering of the poetry on my skin. I let my own thoughts spill out on paper and here on this laptop without a thought about what is right or wrong, even grammatically. I just transcribe the flow. It’s a lava melt of vulnerability, this state. I can cry over everything and not hold on too tightly to anything. I can cry for my own supposed irrelevancy while feeling rapturous delight in my own new song. I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of me, how I look, what I’m wearing, if I’m successful, where I am on the food chain of my career. I’m comfortable in this meditation. It feels like I’ve tripped into a truth center that’s always been here. I can honestly admit how much I like myself right now. Plain and dramatic all at once.

Time folds in. I have no thought of tomorrow and I can’t remember what I did yesterday (honestly) so I’m exist only in these little time slots of feeding/diaper changing/napping. Like 2 hour increments of 24 hours. The days go by so slowly. The nights are a challenge. And so I stay focused. Really really focused.  On him. On me. On my family. And on where my feet are planted. And because of that, in these little 20 minute respites where i can check emails or write my blog or try to tackle a song, I feel like I’m at the peak of my creativity. Even just how I relate to reading or listening to things: words are spilling through me with multiple layers of meaning without me trying to understand anything at all. Mostly that makes me very, very content. Sometimes I realize I’m not writing any of this down, just letting the thoughts spill from one to the next, and then disappear into the coming hour.

Sometimes it kicks me in the ass. Or the ego. And I go into a dark zone of panic, of future tripping.  Of money worries and career panics. I write myself post it notes. I keep spreadsheets. I check emails. I know I am not staying on top of anything.

Today, right now, Huck is lying in the pack and play on our screened in porch with the fan above him in the heat, napping so deeply I have to check on his breathing.  And I’m in the kitchen where the screen doors are, watching him, just doing little tasks – laundry, responding to an email from an agent, reading a few pages of the novel or memoir in my stack of books I’m reading.

I am late for things. I make a plan to go to a class at my gym or to the library’s reading hour for infants. And I get involved in folding something carefully or watering all the plants or writing these sentences and the importance of leaving what I’m doing at this minute falls away and then I realize I’ll be late and decide it wasn’t that critical for me to make that pilates class anyway. I can swim later. Swimming is a meditation. Gliding through the water quietly like a seal for 25, 30, 40 minutes I count strokes. Like I count breaths. Time slows.

I’ve been told this time goes by so quickly. That before I know it, he’ll be walking, then going to school, then 18. I don’t believe them. Time has never been so intentional, each minute a universe, nothing happening, everything happening.


Hallelujah Chorus


[cue the timpani]


Dad and Mom woke with his gurgling and cooing and leg flopping, looked at the clock. “Did you feed him in the middle of the night?”
“No. Did he wake?”
“No…he didn’t…that means…”
(all together now)
“He slept through the night!”
(Mom and Dad high five each other and do a happy dance)

Let it be noted, for the record, for the baby book, for his history, on the night of Tuesday July 10th, Huckleberry James Wood went to his bassinet at 8:30pm and didn’t wake up until 5:30am.



Linea Nigra

June 2018

There’s a line that emerged on my belly sometime during the last trimester. A faint, thin, dark line that ran from my pubis all the way to the small freckle that I had never noticed right in between my breasts. My skin is fair and so the line is light, not that dark, barely noticeable. But I’d been looking for it, hoping for it, as I wanted to be marked by this event. Like a tattoo. To have it indelibly written on my skin: Here inside lies life, emerging. Or, later, that it would stay around, saying forever: Here, inside, grew life.  I’ve read that this line may fade, as my belly button retreated. What was once a deep innie became an arrogantly pushing outie in the last month. Now, it has burrowed back into the furrows of my soft stomach and I can’t see it like I could a few months ago. I want this line to stay. I lay in my bathtub this morning with my hands on my flatter and softer belly, missing the baths I took in my 9thmonth, when I’d watch Huck’s feet ski across the inside of my skin, an alien moving around inside me. I’d talk to him, whisper, sing, anything to just beg him to stay and to come out healthy.

He is here, of course, and he’s healthy and he’s 3 months old and I’m still sleep deprived but getting used to the short shifts of dreams in between feedings. I’m getting used to the last minute panic before leaving the house of “Where is the Red Wooby?” because the red dog Wubanub pacifier can make the difference between a calm outing to the grocery store or a complete meltdown. We should really have a few on hand…

Black line. Line of demarcation. Line in the sand. It feels like having this physical reminder of the last year is important to me as I’m afraid I’ll forget things. Already time has folded in on itself and it feels like yesterday that he was born, it feels like forever ago.

This time last year I was waiting for a call from my Ob-Gyn to find out if I was pregnant. I was certain I was. When we went into the Clinic to have the blastocyte transferred into me, I did all the things. I brought my blue meditation scarf that one of my best friends had given me. I bought a long necklace that ended in a lapis arrow, deep blue, and rested on my belly button. I brought things for my pockets and my purse. I meditated. I conjured my spirit guides. I lay on that operating table the peaceful beatific picture of Mother. I knew it would work. A half an hour later, we were at a Cracker Barrel and I ate all of the breakfasts, famished, and convinced I was pregnant. I didn’t want to sneeze – afraid the microscopic potential life force gently placed inside me by a tube could be pushed out muscularly.  My body started to feel different, my dreams were vivid. I knew I was pregnant. I started to plan.

10 days later, I went into the lab to take a bloodtest and waited until they called me with the results. When they did – and it was negative – I was stunned. Numb. Shocked. How could I KNOW and then it wasn’t?

As it turns out, I had been. It had ‘stuck’. And then it fell apart. They could know this by some hormone level.  I felt punished. Karmic retribution. I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant. It was a dark day. Jamey held me while a volcanic grief vomited out of me, buckling my knees.  He gave me about 10 minutes of ugly crying, until he said, “Put your sneakers on. We’re going for a walk,” and on that walk he convinced me that it was all out of our hands and that we should try one more time.  He made me laugh. He literally dove into the dark cavern with a flashlight, put a rope around my waist and hoisted me up to the daylight again.

This time last year.

My baby is sleeping in his crib right now and my dog is snoring behind me in the room next door which is my office as I write this. The house hums with air conditioning. It is 90 degrees and raining.

I don’t remember making the decision to become a mother. I just leapt into the darkness with a casual adventurous trust.  I hadn’t really thought through how my career would change, how my way of making money would be compromised and have to shift; how my body would change, soften, hurt; how my rage and sorrow would flip flop around joy and laughter, a hormonal whiplash that does not get better when the baby is born; how my feet would grow a half size and that closet full of expensive boots and shoes now taunts me with my former self, as I live in slippers and flip flops; how my breasts would leak milk anytime I hear a baby cry and how it’s quite possible that my hair is matted with spit up as I type this.

I knew women that were born to be good mothers. They were the babysitters who loved the job. I hated that job but did it for the easy money. I love my nieces and nephews but in short stints. My attention span isn’t suited for parenting. I never considered myself ‘nurturing’.

But I am. Maybe it’s a gift I was graced with as my baby was pulled from the small slice in my abdomen. What wasn’t there before is there in spades now. I love this soft out of shape body so much more than I loved the yoga-toned flat-stomach one I had a few years ago. I have the distracted attention span of a sparrow, I walk through my world these days in a dreamlike state, half in and half out of this world, all eyes and ears to my baby.  I forget to send thank you notes, to return calls and texts.  I exist in the liminal space: all watery poetry.

Please don’t ask me to do math or be rational or organized right now. I’m not that person. I’m a new mother.

I have the scar to prove it. I’ve been marked. With a dark line. I hope it stays there forever. Like a tattoo.

Serve Somebody


Envy will be the death of me. Or pride. Or greed. Whichever. I’m not even sure I know the difference. They’re all killers.

I went down a rabbit hole last night. I’m admittedly at a very vulnerable place physically, what with 8 weeks now of sleeping in 3 hour chunks, twice a night. They say to me “sleep when the baby sleeps” but I’m not really great at napping. About 10 years ago, I trained myself to do 20 minute power naps. I loved them. I would wake energized. 15 minutes wasn’t enough. 30 minutes and I wanted to sleep for an hour. 20 was the magic number.  But since Huck, I haven’t really been able to do those at all. I don’t get into a deep sleep. I’m always listening for danger.  I rarely dream, as I don’t drop into REM sleep anymore. I hover just below surface consciousness these days both in sleep and wake.  So never fully sleep; never fully awake.  I’m just tired. Bone tired. And, strangely, at the same time surprisingly alert. Like hyper alert. Hyper alive. Hyper sensitive. Hyper everything so that I snap and I cry and I laugh myself into tears at any moment. I’m vulnerable. Skin is on inside-out.

Right before I fell asleep last night I did something no new mother should do. I went down the social media comparison rabbit hole. I found someone I know doing something I want or with someone I know or possessing some talent I assume I don’t have and I scrolled through her feed for an hour. I have been so good lately, not doing that, not obsessing on envy.  Mostly, I have felt extremely connected to gratitude. I scroll through Facebook, watching what others are doing with a sense of joy for them. Gratitude for knowing them. Happiness for their path. A sense that I’m doing exactly what I should be doing in the exact place and time I should be doing whatever it is I was led to do. And be. And feel. And mostly, I just want to applaud everyone from the sidelines or offer any help I can give while I’m sidelined. Grateful.

Except last night, I wasn’t. Last night I was jealous.

Like my addiction, jealousy sits there at all times, under the surface, above the surface, both at once, like an itch, like that sleep I can’t get. I forget about it, or I train myself to ignore it and replace it with better things like gratitude, like community, like service and humility. But there it is, just waiting for my exhaustion to trip me up and then – bam – it comes in like the killer it is. Ha ha! I KNEW you’d come back. Lust. Envy. Greed. Pride. Sloth. Gluttony, all of them. They were all there last night like an army of vampires, sucking on my blood, sucking on my serenity.

I’m a mother. I’m mothering. My time is spent in motherness right now and I have no choice in the matter. I don’t get to set my own schedule. I don’t get to choose when he cries and eats and poops and sleeps. He does what he’s going to do and I come crawling at his service, proferring comfort, proferring milk, proferring the woobie. I have learned skills I didn’t know I had. No poop scares me and I can change a diaper in 2 minutes flat.  I’m an incredible maker-upper-of-songs-that-all-semi-rhyme-Huckleberry.  I can swaddle like a boss. There is no task I cannot do with one arm. I can carry on a perfectly normal conversation with a screaming baby as if it’s just light background noise. I can wander through the day smelling of sour milk spit up that lodged in my hair that I haven’t washed and I barely notice. I don’t suck my stomach in anymore. I like my face without makeup. I am a mother of a newborn. Life is elemental now.

But before I was a mother, I was an ambitious, driven, artist, comparing myself to others, trying to be the best artist I could be, the best writer, the best singer the best performer the best the best the best the best until the best bested me and I was a crumpled exhausted pile of insecurity hidden by bullshit bravado.

That self seems so boring to me now in hindsight.

I still want to create and perform and write and sing and teach and find out what is inside me (just under the surface, like sleep) and grow and cultivate community and learn new licks on guitar and become a better piano player and sing like my friend Bonnie Bishop, even though there’s no way I’ll sing like her because I sing like me, but I love how she sings, all rasp and soul and fluid melismatic blues licks, while I just hold a note like a bird which somehow seems less than, even though the real sober serene, well-meditated Amy knows that neither is better, both are necessary in this world.  Damn. See what I just did there? I just went from a list of healthy goals to a comparing myself to someone I love who I know is different to a rabbit hole of insecurity. And Bonnie Bishop is one of my favorite people. An incredible singer. And I’m just thrilled she is in the world singing. The world needs Bonnie. But I just did that. Went there. And it hurt a bit. A decade ago I did that with Anais Mitchell, who is a lovely, lovely woman, and a friend, and a genius and the world is a better place with Anais Mitchell and her songs in it. And yet, at my weakest, I can think to myself, well, if Anais Mitchell is writing songs like that, what’s the point in me writing anything. I give up. If I can’t be a genius…then what’s the point.  And then I can look at the social media version of someone, they have art and genius and a baby and live in a cool place with a cool haircut and they look skinny and are 10 years younger than me – I can look at all that, make up some fiction about how that’s better than and they are happier than and in less time than it took me to change the last diaper, I have metaphorically burned my journals and quit all of it.

Now, please know, I know this is stupid. I have had enough therapy/recovery/meditation/prayer and I have enough friends to call me out on my bs to know this is not real. This is my brain on addiction. Lying to me.

And “this too shall pass.”

But while I’m waiting for it to pass, it hurts. This has little to do with motherhood, you may think. But see, no. It has everything to do with motherhood. Because we mother ourselves and when I go there, I orphan myself.  Before Huck was even an idea, all I had to do with think about myself and my little plans and designs and I had all the time in the world to follow those desires. I don’t anymore, so my art is segmented into small chunks of time, like sleep.

Right now, I sit here in the rocking chair with a novel next to me and my son is in his crib. My husband is out so I bathed him and sang to him a song I made up with strange Huckleberry rhymes (‘squiggle levy’, ‘stuck on geddys’ ‘truck is heavy’) as I poured warm water over his skin.  I dried him off and he laughed. I swaddled him and he didn’t cry. And then I laid him on the cool sheets, turned on the mobile of whales singing “rock a bye baby”, read him “Goodnight Moon” for the first time in a sing-songy high voice like my grandmother did for me, and watched him fall asleep.

A few years ago I would have said I had made a choice to not be a mother. To live the rest of my life chasing this dream. To live on the road, in small towns, on back roads, playing my songs with a marginal amount of fame and be satisfied. I was lying. I wanted the big cities and the big stages and the accolades and to be invited to the cool parties and to be considered Great. And being a mother didn’t fit into that paradigm. There was nothing sexy to me about being a mother or living in the suburbs because the housing is more affordable and the nearest Target is less than a mile away. But here I am. In between the nearest Target and Home Depot with spit up in my hair and milk stains on most of my shirts from my breasts leaking, wearing granny underwear rather than thongs because my C section scar still hurts, hoping for just 15 minutes of quiet while he naps before the 11pm feeding.

I don’t have time for jealousy or sloth or pride or gluttony when I’m here with him. It’s elemental. Down to the bones. Stripped down. Simple. Like the sound of his breathing. Like the music I make with the voice I was given that can’t do an r&b run but can do it’s own thing. Maybe this is what I’m supposed to be learning in this season.  My friend came to visit tonight and she said I seemed centered in something new. A Kali.

Maybe this is what I’m supposed to be learning about my own art.  Maybe my mother-self is teaching my artist-self what my voice sounds like. And it’s simple. No frills right now. And I’m not going to learn that going down any social media rabbit hole when I should be sleeping. I should just be sleeping.

The New Normal


And then there’s the realization that this has all become your routine. The hours spill into days spill into weeks and suddenly, impossibly, you’ve become used to getting only 3 hours of sleep a night and somehow, impossibly, you don’t even feel that tired. Or you are that tired but you’ve lost track of what tired even feels like and it’s just the new normal and you are just sleepwakewalking through hours that could be daytime, could be nighttime, the only difference being whether the coffee is fresh.  The blinds are drawn and the lights are dim and MSNBC plays on a constant loop until evening when the dinner hour is delineated by the next episode of the current Netflix binge and a rotation of choices of meals that can either be delivered or microwaved.

Huck has been with us more than a month and we have barely left the sectional couch. God bless the sectional couch in it’s perfect ordinary beigeness. Huck has gained enough weight so that there are creases in his arms and thighs where see-through skin over bone is now plump with fat and the yellow jaundice has given way to rosy peach skin.  He has learned to latch and suckle and the chirping noises he makes while feeding have given me his pet name: Cricket.  Sometimes, though: Bug. Jamey prefers Goose. Or Little Man. Or “my buddy, my pal, my friend”. We stare at him, watch the lines on his forehead crease with questioning, or curiosity (or, most likely, gas). We watch his lips — rising into two sharp peaks that are the copy of his father’s lips, above the same chin of his fathers, under the nose of his grandfather — we watch the mouth purse and open and curl and we say “Can you believe he’s ours?” Over and over.

It is a day/night period punctuated by 2 hour shifts. Feed, burp, stare, change, nap, feed, burp, stare, change, nap. I am astounded that my body produces milk. I am astounded by the whole scientific magnificence of it all. I still cannot believe that this chirping creature was created inside my body and survived 9 months to be this beautiful. 9 months of peril. Of tests. Of the wait.  Of The flu. Bronchitis. 3 car accidents, one of which resulted in an overnight stay at the same hospital, the same floor where he’d be born only a few weeks later.  He overcame all that and my fears and doubts. I had to wade through years of pent up shame to allow for the lightness I needed to give birth to possibility.

And it is no different at 50 than I’m sure it is at 20 or 40. I read of a famous woman who just announced her pregnancy at 48 and I read the criticisms and concerns and I’d like to reach out and say to her, “Ignore them. Your body is a fierce machine.”  I thought this would be much harder, physically. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a cakewalk. It was challenging. But I don’t know if it was harder than any other younger pregnancy. AARP came to interview me for a website piece on first time mothers over 40. The woman who interviewed me over the phone and on subsequent emails was very cool, but some of the questions pushed an edge and I think I may have puffed up my wings with some bravado as a countermeasure. I think some was authentic, but I certainly wasn’t showing the vulnerable fears that are also just as true. Like when she asked me if I had any fear that my kid would think I’m out of step because I’ll be old as he grows up. Or did I have any hesitancy because I may not live to be old enough to see him grow up. My initial reaction was snarky —  “Oh, no I hadn’t thought that part through, the ‘me being 70 when he’s 20 and I may be dead before he has children’ part. But thanks for bringing that up.” Nah. I just answered the questions with honesty and strength as I could falsely muster, put on some lipstick and posed in my backyard with Huck for the photographers, hoping that I wouldn’t look too tired and paunchy.

AARP. It’s great, don’t get me wrong, and I’m flattered. I’m also grateful because it’s the best story to tell now, from stage. That in one week Vogue almost came to do a photoshoot but bailed, so instead AARP came.  This is true. It’s also very funny. You can’t write this stuff…

I started this blog piece a few weeks ago and am finishing it tonight, as I’m on the late shift, which means I stay up for the 11pm feeding and then wake up for the 6am feeding, while Jamey goes to sleep around 9 or 10pm, wakes at 3am, and then gets to sleep till about 8.  We’ve settled into this routine well, each of us getting 3-4 hours of sleep, twice a night. Tonight I am on the beige couch with Huck and he has been alive for 8 weeks, which seems crazy to me. 8 weeks is nothing. I feel like he’s been here forever now. I look at him sometimes and the tears well up and when he’s feeding off me my eyes blur over and the tears drop onto his cheeks, now even chubbier.  Just this week, I think, his vision changed, so that one morning I woke and came to the couch to join Jamey and I leaned over to put my face to Huck’s and his eyes widened and he smiled. He wasn’t just seeing lights and shapes. He saw me and knew me. Three days later, he’s watching my mouth, shaping his lips to mimic mine, his tongue inside his mouth curling around in there, trying to form sounds. I’m watching him discover language. He’s far from words, I know this, but to see the beginning of that process, to watch him discover what has always been there for me is awe-inspiring.  His arms jerk up to the ceiling and his legs kick out, so I know he still doesn’t have muscular control. But there are times I swear he’s reaching for me intentionally, his arm outstretched to my face.  And I watch his mouth move in sleep and his eyes move back and forth under his eyelashed lids and I wonder what a newborn dreams about. Lights and sounds and scents? Are his dreams little movies like mine are? And when does fear show up in a baby and how can I protect him from that, control that, change that, stop that (and I ask that knowing that I cannot).

I loved him the minute I saw him. And it was big and overwhelming. But it has sunk deeper into my body each week. There are moments, I’ll be completely honest, where I’ve felt detached, but that feeling lasts only as long as I’m out of sight of my son until my breasts start to swell and hurt and I can feel my milk let down and I know it’s time to feed him. I feel like a woman who is just paddling around in water and once every few days strays a bit beyond the buoy just long enough for someone to tug at the rope around her waist and bring her back to shore where she belongs. Even going to the grocery store alone can feel like I’ve gone too far from the beach.  I want time to stop here, on this couch, this ground zero of my family. I want my husband to not have to go back to work. I want to not have to work myself. I want to play music and do shows and tour and I also never want to tour again. I never want to leave my son. Every day there is something new to see in him and I’m afraid to miss the moment he wakes up fully to the world around him.

As much as I love, though, I fear. I’ve never known love like this. And I’ve never experienced the kind of paralytic fear that makes me imagine the worst while looking into this beautiful boy’s new smiling face. I love. I fear. It feels like it’s all the same soup right now.

I’m afraid of dropping him. Of drowning him while I bathe him. I’m afraid of the germs on the counter that I never cared about before. I’m afraid that the pot we are boiling the water to make the formula that we use to supplement the breast milk may give off some contaminate in the water into the formula into his stomach that will make him sick. I’m afraid the swaddle we swaddle him with will choke him. I’m afraid of disease and disaster and war and bullies. I’m afraid of every gurgle and click from his mouth in the middle of the night, that he’s not breathing, so I lean up out of my side of the bed and peer over into his bassinet and lay my hand on his swaddled chest to feel the rise and fall.

I’m afraid that now, after all these years of wandering in the dark, to finally find what I was always looking for, that I’ll do something to mess it up. Because I will. All parents do. Huck was born from two beautiful disasters.  We’re hoping, at the least, it will give him a great sense of humor.

But just to be on the safe side, I’ve got a piggy bank started for his therapy fund.



“Meteorite of Overwhelm”


I’m working on a new post, but in the meantime, I think this is really cool. AARP came to my home in Tennessee to photograph me and Huck for this article that will be coming out in the next magazine. Click below to read the interview!


In Utero

fullsizeoutput_142eI took this photo the night before I went into the hospital. I look back through the photos I took of my belly throughout my pregnancy and I wasn’t really that large, comparatively. But I got big quickly at the end, especially the week before I delivered. It astounds me how much skin can stretch. I look at Huck today — he’s a bit over his birth weight — and I can’t imagine him curled up into a tight ball inside me, sucking on his toes. I’m still wrapping my brain around the fact that, for 9 months, a little boy grew in there.

I spent much of my life hating my stomach. My mom called it “the pooch”. We all have it. My mom. My sister. Me. We are all small women. In fact, I’ve always felt large compared to my mother (size 3 or barely) and my sister (like size nothing). My mom and sister are birdlike, small bones, small frames. I inherited some of that but my father’s side in terms of bones – small frame, large bones. I definitely went through a chubby phase in my 20s and 30s. Chalk that up to the sugar intake, considering I got through about 25 quietly miserable years with the help of red wine (expensive Cabs to box wine on the counter for emergencies), Vodka and Bombay Sapphire Gin when I had money.  It worked until it didn’t and when it didn’t, as I’ve written before, I was lucky enough to have had a crash and burn with friends who had sobriety and kindness and to whom I listened when the invitation came to surrender. My last drink of alcohol was December 2, 2012.  I dropped 20 pounds almost immediately in the months following that decision. And started doing Bikram Yoga obsessively and got back to running and I lost the pooch. But it took a while to love my body. My dear friend Stacie Huckaba, an incredibly empathetic photographer, came to look at my closet to help me choose outfits for my “That Kind Of Girl” photo shoot and discovered that in the front of the closet, everything was 2 or more sizes too big for me.  Stuffed in the back were a bunch of right-sized rock and roll clothes. Leather shorts. Sparkly jackets. What I called my “skinny alter ego” wardrobe. The pieces I’d buy and justify by saying “When I drop 10 pounds, I’ll wear this.” She said to me, “Speace, you’ve got to stop wearing tent dresses. You have a body. Show it off.” (and if you know Stacie and her story, which you should, you’d listen. If anyone can convince someone to love their body it’s Stacie, who has done the marathon lifting for all of us in terms of self-love).

So, after years of working on a flat (or at least semi-flat) stomach, imagine my surprise when I fell madly in love with my body at about 9 months pregnant. Not only did it hold and care for my son, but I thought it was kind of sexy. I liked that I was limited by my clothing options: I’d only bought (or borrowed) a few pieces – maternity jeans, overalls, some t shirts that came down low. I couldn’t wear 99% of my shoes, as my feet had swollen and gained 1/2 size. So I bought an expensive pair of Danish wool slippers for home (totally worth the splurge) and lived outside in Sketchers flats or Uggs. I’ve never felt so sexy in my life.  And as much as I was deeply looking forward to the pregnancy being over (the backpain, the sleeplessness, the heartburn, the swollen feet), I was also sad to lose the belly.

Jamey would talk to Huck at night, through my swollen belly. He would lay his head on my skin and in a low voice intone “Huuuuuuuck…Huuuuuuuuck” and sometimes, even, Huck would respond with a soft kick.  I would talk to my son constantly day and night out loud, a running commentary on my life as it unfolded during his gestation. I told him chapters from my life story, all the juicy parts. I told him of the long and winding path of destruction, redemption and miraculous circumstance that created the opening for him to be a part of our lives.  I described the trees and the birds on walks. I told him about my grandmother Roro and how much she would have loved him and talked to her where she exists for me, in the cardinals and a long stretch of white-clouded blue sky.  I introduced him to my Uncle Will who passed years ago.  I sang to him. I made up songs as I walked for miles on the trails at Shelby Park.  I wrote a lullaby to him and sang it over and over so he would know it.  I sang him “Moon River” because it’s the only song I know with the word “huckleberry” in it. And when I’d sing or talk or cry, he’d kick. Or hiccup. Or move. It was something only I could feel. Jamey could see it: an alien moving across the inside of my belly. A hand, a foot, his butt. I knew how to make it happen: lie on my back, drink cold water, or something sweet. And wait. Like magic. And I felt connected to him, knowing what would wake him. He who I could not yet see. He who I did not yet know.

Jamey would say, “I can’t wait to meet him.” And, although I felt exactly the same way, there was a small part of me that was hesitant. I didn’t want to meet him. Yet. I wanted him to stay inside me longer. To stay safe and warm. And all mine. He, of course, was never all mine. He was Jamey’s too. And really, he’s his own. But for 9 months, he was inside me, feeding off me, needing me. And that made him mine. Not like a pet or a stuffed animal. Something I owned. More like a grace given. A forgiveness. A prayer. Remembered words and melody. Something that lived and breathed in my bloodstream that nobody else could hear or see or sense.  I was his translator.  My invisible friend.

I would wake at 6am each morning and go to the room we’d been making into his nursery with the crib and the changing table and the nursing chair and gifts from the baby showers washed, folded and stacked. I kept my meditation books there on the table with the light, next to my journal and pen.  I would wake early and put on a sweater and go sit in that chair and read a meditation of the day. Then I would pray the prayer I say first thing every morning, the prayer I say to the air, to the trees, to the breathing universe, and sometimes, if I’m lucky, to a God that I’ve created in my own imagination who may or may not look like the one my parents lent me long long ago. Sometimes I just say the words in a mechanical way, a memorized set of sounds, because it’s a routine I believe in doing even if I’m not sure I believe the doing will DO anything. I’ve learned to trust Acting my Way Into Believing rather than the opposite. Then I meditate. For 10 minutes. Or 20. Or 45.  It didn’t even matter if I spent those minutes fidgeting and fighting the silence. I did it anyway. And all this doing brought me closer to my baby, living and growing inside me. He was even more all mine in this morning ritual. He was mine and God’s and all the rivers and the trees and the bees and the air. This ritual was connecting me to “Mother”, a quality that I was sure would not come naturally to me. Not the job or the title or the identity, but the quality. Nurturing, listening, healing, loving. His body. My body. Our soul. Our breathing. All together in union with a power way greater than I could even imagine. Some unifying force that glued all beings. Like love.

I was falling in love.

So, it felt like a secret I shouldn’t say aloud that, in the few days after Huck was born, I could sense a grief somewhere in that post-partum emotional soup. I missed him being inside me, all mine. I didn’t want to share him. I wanted him back inside me for a few months. I had some things to tell him before he opened his eyes to the aching world.

But he had to come and my body was ready and bursting and when they laid that tiny body next to my head laying on the OR gurney and he curled up in a tight ball, crying, scrunching his face against the light and the cold of the world, I wanted to apologize for having him ripped from the warm ocean and I wanted to wrap him up in the warmth of my voice, his one familiar thing of this alien world. I leaned my head toward his and said softly “Hi my love, I’m your mommy.”

The thing is, there is nothing unique about anything I’ve been writing about.  What is astounding is how common all of this is but how unique it feels to be going through it. I am not the only one to have a beautiful newborn in my arms in the hours after the birth and still grieve the pregnancy.  And maybe grief is not the right word. Maybe it’s more akin to a homesickness. That muscular pull at the skin around the heart when you long for something you haven’t yet lost.  For me, I knew that this was a one time deal. At my age, I was lucky to have gotten this far, to have carried a baby at all. There is no second pregnancy for me. So I’m grieving more than just the experience of gestation. I’m grieving Time. I don’t want to write, “if only I’d done this earlier…” because I could have done this earlier, many many times, but I didn’t. I chose not to. Because it wasn’t right. Because it had to happen this way, at this age, with this man, with this boy. And that is one thing I know to be true. Even if it’s some kind of poetic thinking not grounded in any scientific fact. It’s a better story for me to tell myself.

But then, it’s 4:25am as I write this and I’ve got a perfect baby on my lap, holding him tight, his skin to mine, as he feeds off me and his sleep-filled eyes flutter open and he looks up past my breast to my face, searching for meaning in the shapes and lights that constitute me to him right now, visually. He can hear my voice. He knows my voice. He knows my scent. And in the dark of the early morning light, he is still just all mine.

Nobody Told Me There’d Be Days Like These..

huck-57.jpgIt is 5:30am on one of the last days of March. The sky is still dark and the rain falls lightly in the early yawning of this morning here in Hendersonville on the outskirts of Nashville.  I sit in the room we created for our son well before he was born.  A changing table made from an old dresser with wipes and diapers and creams within reach.  A new nursing chair (the splurge), my writing and reading station in these late night sessions. A crib he won’t sleep in for a while. An old tall shelf with books and stuffed animals along the wall.  His name painted on reclaimed fence wood his uncle and grandmother made.  A framed prayer that hung in my mother’s childhood room and a framed needlepoint that my mother made when I was born.  The Prayer of St. Francis hanging on the wall behind where I rock him to sleep.   In the months before he was born, I spent hours in this room meditating as the sun rose, hoping to connect with him in utero, singing, making up lullabies, hoping to reach through the hum so that when he arrived he’d know me by my voice.

But this morning, I don’t meditate. I pump. Which is what I do every 2 hours. Which is what I’ve been doing now for the past week.  Meditation has gone the way of a 7 hour sleep, a daily shower, any clothes that are not fleecy soft and baggy, cooking, shoes with a heel, a 2 hour movie, making out with my husband, driving, thong underwear, my collection of long chunky necklaces, care about the music business, etc.  You get the picture. I am a milk producer. I am 2 feedbags hooked to a medieval torture chamber called an electric double breast pump made by Medela that our insurance covered (thank goodness: these things are expensive), pumping out about 2 ounces of milk every 2 hours.

I knew I’d be pumping. I didn’t know I’d be pumping this much. Here’s the thing I’ve learned after being a mother for 12 days: it may be natural, but it isn’t easy and that’s normal.

Can we all talk about boobs without giggling like 3rd graders?

You hear a lot of the blissed out stories of birth and breastfeeding. The lovely, peaceful moments breastfeeding your newborn — mother’s milk. How incredible. How wonderful. How free. But nobody talks about how hard breastfeeding is unless you’re backed up against the wall yelling “uncle” and then the collective amnesia breaks.  The new mother, broken, in a puddle of tears in the dark, begging another mother, surrendering “I give up. I can’t do this.” And the truth seeps out. This. Shit. Is. Hard.

Clearly, no one is trying to be misleading here. But it’s like the magazines kind of miss the mark in the retelling.  Kind of like that time my mother explained sex to me and my sister with some vague runaround language — “beautiful…natural…God’s way…” — till I was completely baffled about the science of what really happens and I misconstrued intercourse to be an optional act which, at 8 years old, I deemed gross, and I made a firm decision — at 8 years old — that I would just skip the “man puts his private part in the woman’s private parts” thing because I still thought, after The Talk, that babies came from a Stork or God or eating broccoli, until one day, in 7th grade, I was with my new friends in my new town and we are all on a pink canopy bed reading Judy Blume’s “Forever” outloud and giggling at the dirty parts and when Teresa, who already was wearing a bra and probably had let Nicky Caringi touch her boobs, read the word “cum,” and the room grows still and reverent, and I ask what that is, revealing, to the cool girls, that I’m clueless about the chemistry and that I had been misled about the whole sex act and babies and all, thus becoming the butt of a year-long shaming campaign, betrayed by my mother who was probably caught off-guard all those years ago when my younger sister broached the subject after school one day by asking: “Mom? Did Dad have to pee inside your pee place to make babies?”

Similarly, I thought breastfeeding would be beautiful, natural, wondering. And easy. I was not prepared for the darkness that I’d quickly spiral down when things went south in the boob department.

It was easy at first, I thought. I was lulled into complacency. After my surgery, after they’d cleaned and swaddled Huck and laid him on my chest while sewing up my abdomen, they wheeled me into a recovery room for a few hours. I was bleary with overwhelming emotions of awe and joy and gratitude and disbelief. I was dizzy with the narcotic that had been given to me in the spinal. I was freezing cold, teeth-chattering and slightly afraid still of my own health. Jamey sat beside me. I barely remember this part, but a nurse put Huck to my breast immediately and, like a nature documentary, the baby crawled toward the nipple and put his gummy mouth over top and began sucking. Just like that. Without any instruction manual. He knew where to go. It was that easy.  It felt like a tingle. A bit uncomfortable, a tugging, a gnawing. It didn’t hurt, but it was strange. More like an evolutionary pleasure – a warming of my entire chest and abdomen. I felt Useful. I felt like a Mother Goddess, like Kali, powerful and fully attuned to this new sense of purpose.   Nobody showed me, at that point, what to do or how to do it. Huck found his way to food and latched on.  I covered his head with my hand, Jamey held my own in his, and we watched. Incredulous.

During the 3 day hospital stay, we had many nurses, rotating around the clock.  Mostly, Huck stayed with us in the room.  My doctor came in every day. Our pediatrician came in every morning. We were well taken care of and I felt very lucky to have good health insurance that afforded us this opportunity for round-the-clock care. Jamey stayed in the room with me on the couch. Our friends and our families came to visit, bringing food, bringing balloons and flowers, sitting on the bed and crying tears of joy with me.  We felt surrounded by a village of love.

Our hospital really encouraged breastfeeding and provided Lactation Consultants. Each nurse that took care of me had information on breast feeding and I soaked it up and asked a billion questions. But after a day, I noticed each nurse’s information was slightly different than the last, sometimes in direct contradiction.  Of course, I was on pain meds, foggy and emotional, and it was a lot of information to take in when I was still reeling dizzy from the newfound awe of just having birthed an actual human being that looked a lot like my husband and who needed me to survive.  I don’t remember being told when to breastfeed, but it felt like I was on a schedule, especially at night.  Every 2 hours.  It hurt and I’d ask each nurse for advice, soaking information in like an eager student. I wanted to get this right.  A night nurse named Courtney, who I’d joked looked 12, was extremely knowledgeable and a great teacher. Courtney was incredibly helpful, showing me different holds, talking to me about what a good “latch” was.  Another nurse wasn’t. She barreled into the room, elbowing her way through my friends Kira and Stacie, with a squeaky high-pitched overly cheery (I mistrust overly cheery people) “Royal We” way of communicating to me:  “How are WE doing with breastfeeding today? How is OUR latch?” I kept my New Yorker in check (as Kira calls my bitchy side) and said, “I think I’ve got it. Courtney just helped me out” and demonstrated, utilizing the exact hold that I was just taught.  This Miss Smiley Pants literally lunged at my breast saying, “well, WE aren’t really doing this right, are WE?” as if she was going to reposition my son on my flesh and I flinched and stopped her from touching me without permission.  I can’t be sure I didn’t threaten her.  I don’t know if I said “back the f away from my breast, girlie” or just thought it. Who knows. I was on painkillers and after 2 days of conflicting and confusing information, I was exhausted, I was frustrated, and I was angry.  About an hour after Miss Congeniality left the room, the second Lactation Consultant came into the room with a more believable friendliness and asked how I was doing with breastfeeding and if I had any questions.  I literally fell apart crying into her arms. I told her through incomplete babbling sentences “I’m…I don’t…I mean I think it’s right…but she said this…and then she did this…and then I felt…and then…I don’t know…and…” before I lost it again, snot dripping down my face, she watched me breastfeed Huck and said, “You’re fine! He’s feeding! You’re doing amazing!” She high-fived, me and left the room. I felt confident.

Now, I have had dark days in my life. I have dark nights of the soul where watching the clock pass the early morning hours was maddening, where the crying feels like falling into your own grave, where the hours from midnight to sunrise are a hell in a jail in a spiral maze without beginning or end.  I have never experienced anything like the hell that is the first two nights alone in our house with our newborn. He screamed. I fed him. He sucked. He screamed. We changed him. I fed him. He screamed. I took him away from our bedroom (he is sleeping in a bassinet by the side of our bed) to the baby room to nurse him away from Jamey. He screamed. Jamey got up and tried to walk him through the house. We fought. I sweated through my clothes. We didn’t know what we were doing wrong. We were told at the hospital if we were breastfeeding to NEVER EVER give him a pacifier and to NEVER EVER feed him from a bottle as those would make a lazy latch. So we didn’t. We endured the longest two nights of our lives. At one point, I was sitting up in bed, Huck on my lap screaming, and I was just bent over him sobbing until I was wheezing. Jamey was worried about me. I felt like a huge failure. I didn’t know what was wrong. I was in pain everywhere. My belly hurt. My incision hurt and every time I’d move from side to side or sit up or sit down or roll over in bed, I’d feel a wet hot burning sting across my incision in my abdomen. And now, my nipples hurt. Not just hurt. They were on fire. On day 3, I inspected them to find a dark reddish purple line horizontally across the tip, cracking, bleeding and I could barely touch my breasts.  Every time Huck put his mouth on my breast with his “perfect latch” (as I was told), it felt like he was biting me and I’d clamp a hand over my mouth so as not to scream outloud.

Our hospital offered group breastfeeding classes, but I needed someone to help one-on-one.  I was losing it. No sleep and feelings of complete dissociation and failure.  I was worried that Jamey thought I was exaggerating (he didn’t) and I didn’t want to bother anyone, thinking “I’ve got this” or worse, “I should have this” (always a dangerous sentence for me to even think).  I called someone at La Leche League, who talked me off the ledge, then called a Lactation Consultant to make a home visit.  She came the next day, took one look at my breasts and said, “Oh honey, of course you’re in pain. You have severe trauma going on there. Whoever told you that was a fine latch was high. It’s a shallow latch and of course he’s tearing you up.”  I cried with relief this time: someone heard me and was going to help me. Turns out, my son had a tongue tie which was making for a shallow latch which was tearing up my nipple, creating an infection that needed treatment.  The solution was to get the tongue tie cut and to pump exclusively for about a week to give my breasts time to heal and then to retrain Huck’s latch with the help of the coach.  Thank god I posted a few little hints about my troubles on Facebook, and opened the onslaught of “Me Too” posts and advice that led to me calling someone for help, as I would have stayed in the dark, trying to feed a little boy who was only screaming because he was starving and not getting enough milk. During those few excruciating days, we were taking Huck into our pediatrician to get weighed as he had  lost 11% of his birth weight. Each day, he gained nothing and the doctor’s tone took on a warning, “he has GOT to gain weight” which I heard as “You suck as a mother. What are you doing with those inadequate empty sacks attached to your chest. You should never have tried to do this at your age, you selfish selfish woman.” Jamey, worried as well, would very gently ask me, “I mean, how long did you feed him on each side?” (a reasonable question) and I heard “You suck as a mother. Anyone else could get this job done.”

Ok. I know this is all completely irrational thinking and I was even able to argue with my subconscious (she doesn’t mean it; he doesn’t know what his tone sounds like; you are doing your best). The Mean Girl voice shaming me met my Lioness voice who said, “Hey, back the f off…we’re trying here” but the critical voice would get louder and she sounded a whole lot like my scared 8 year old self who hid in the closet, sucking her thumb and cried a lot. Looking back only a few days later, it strikes me how fast down the shame spiral I went after having the best and most joyous day of my life giving birth to a healthy son. I know now I’m not alone in this rapid descent. After I received comfort, reassurance and real information from our coach, I reached out to all the mothers I know and the stories started pouring in. The “me too’s” started unfolding in front of me and I realized how many women had the exact same problem. Inadequate information given to them when they were barely conscious after a long, hard labor or in the hours after surgery. False warnings about pacifiers and formula (our consultant said, “supplement with formula if you can’t pump enough, he needs to gain weight until you can get him back on the breast and if you can’t, there’s nothing wrong with formula feeding”).  Even men I knew shared stories of the dark days right after their wives gave birth, quietly offering their side in a semi-public forum. It helped.

I honestly thought I was losing it for a few days and those days felt like forever. The nurses were doing their best, I’m sure, and to be honest, I think Miss Congeniality may have been trying to give me the best advice of all of them, probably reaching to show me my latch was shallow, but I just wasn’t in a place to hear her and at that point, I was frustrated and just wanted to get on with it and get home.

The truth is: breastfeeding is hard. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And many women try and then give up. Which is perfectly fine.  Most of us are just winging it, reading as many books as we can, asking everyone for advice, getting the apps, buying the gear, etc. But even armed with a PhD of information, nothing prepared me for the hormonal seesaw of the week post-birth, just as nothing prepared me for the whiplash of feels when I saw my son for the first time, whole and healthy, emerging from my own body.  It took a village to get me to week 2, where I’m not crying every few minutes, where I feel confident again, where I’m able to say “I don’t know” without trapping myself behind old patterns.

And so tomorrow I will begin again. And if it doesn’t work, my nieces and my nephews are formula babies and they turned out fine. There is no right answer. We are all just finding our way in the dark. But when the moon is low, we need flashlights. With decent batteries. And a few people who have walked that forest path before us to help us avoid the gnarly roots that could trip us up, and show us which direction to choose when the trail splits in two.

(Photo: Stacie Huckaba)